Colin Schilling MBA’12 thrives on more than one apple a day.
And made from a blend of 100% Washington apples.
“We produce a bunch of experimental, draft-only offerings to test new ideas, and attract customers’ attention,” explains Colin Schilling MBA’12, founder of hobby-turned-enterprise Schilling Cider in Seattle, WA. “Recent recipes have included Chocolate Nitro, Sour Pomegranate, Grapefruit Radler, and Rooibos Chai.”
The new flavors come at a time of effervescent interest in the nation’s first adult beverage. Partially fueled by the gluten-free lifestyle, cider’s share of the alcohol market is growing faster than any other drink since the end of Prohibition. Washington State consumes the most cider per capita, while Oregon occupies second place.
Having sextupled production capacity since launching, and recently secured funding for further growth, Schilling couldn’t be better positioned to ride this resurgence of cider’s popularity.
The Apple Didn’t Fall Far From The Tree
“Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, I always knew I wanted to go into business for myself,” Schilling says. “I’d been crafting ciders at home for years, knew that the industry was poised to bloom, and felt that I had enough passion for the idea to sustain me through the long hours of building a business. It has been challenging, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
What could be fun about crafting large batches of cider for a growing following? For a start, there’s the pleasure of experimenting with new ingredients and recipes. Next, it’s always satisfying to see the fruits of his team’s labors on store shelves and in the hands of appreciative customers. Also, business events in the alcohol industry have well-earned renown for a good time. Finally, there’s the novelty of delivery days, when a tanker full of apple juice arrives at the cidery.
“It Can Be Very Intense Manual Labor”
As with any business, it’s not all tangy sweet. The enormous fermentation tanks where the magic happens need cleaning, from the inside. Also, someone has to fill all the kegs on order, and then move them around the warehouse. It may not be glamorous, but it is all part of the plan.
“We always intended to build a proof-of-concept model with our own money: small batches, no tasting room. So we started out cheap and small, following the iterative model that Willamette stresses. We’ve had missteps, but they’ve also been small.”
Lessons From Early Bruises
First, fully test your product before selling it. Schilling Cider’s recipes have changed based on customers’ feedback. Now they know how to test more effectively, find what works, and scale from there.
Second, talk to other cider producers; “We’re in a very regulated industry, and it can be a stressor if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong,” Schilling shares. “Some of my cider friends have even been shut down temporarily. We haven’t been affected directly, and we’re collaborating more to ensure it stays that way.”
Investors Welcomed To The Party
Schilling Cider expanded distribution to four states before seeking investors. This early success, paired with Schilling’s experience in Wade Brooks’s Angel Investing course, prepared him to pitch investors confidently.
Soon, Schilling Cider will open a cider bar in Seattle. “We’re excited to think of that as our direct learning center,” Schilling enthuses. “We’ll be able to see what people like and design exactly what customers want. We’re learning while we’re building a profitable business. It’s the best of both worlds.”
-Mike Russell, Content Strategist at Pivotal Writing.
Photos Courtesy Schilling Cider LLC
“We’ve always had a three-stage approach: dial in production, expand our sales force, and enter more markets. And of course, make delicious cider.” -Colin Schilling MBA '12